Transforming plants into ‘biofactories’


The Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Facility for Producing Pharmaceuticals in Plants at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience has the potential to provide inexpensive medications to patients, says UQ.

Head of the new state-of-the-art laboratory, Professor David Craik, says his team will use the Ramaciotti Facility to transform plants into ‘biofactories’ that produce potent next-generation pharmaceuticals.

“The new drugs will be incorporated into novel plant products such as seeds, medicinal teas and foods, where they have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of patients who cannot afford current medications, or cannot tolerate the effects of their complicated treatment regimes,” he says.

“Certain plants naturally produce molecules called cyclic peptides, which we will redesign for pharmaceutical purposes.

“We will then use other host plants, including canola, tobacco and petunia, as manufacturing facilities to produce the ‘designer’ peptide medicines.”

Professor Craik says he believes third world countries in particular could benefit from drugs grown cheaply in plants, instead of synthesised in laboratories.

“Our work could have huge impacts in the third world, where many regions are devastated by diseases such as HIV/AIDS because although effective drugs exist, they’re just too expensive,” Prof Craik says.

“Our research indicates that the future of drugs lays in peptides, as they are more selective, more potent and potentially safer because when they eventually break down they turn into amino acids, which are basically food.

“This work – which we hope will be approved for widespread use by 2025 – could have serious positive impacts on patients suffering cancer, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis and pain.”

The facility was made possible through a $1 million Ramaciotti Biomedical Research Award from the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundations and trustee Perpetual, which is shared with Professor Craik’s collaborator, Professor Marilyn Anderson from La Trobe University.


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